7 Takeaways from CinemaCon 2015

Disney and Fox are strong. Sony is climbing back. Warner makes blockbusters (duh). Michael B. Jordan is a scorching movie star.

I’ve been in Las Vegas and haven’t seen the sky for three full days. However, I have seen lots of trailers and exciting footage (and some not-so-exciting footage) of the movies coming our way this year.

Here are my takeaways from the annual CinemaCon confab between Hollywood and movie exhibitors.

Sony wants to be the “filmmaker friendly” studio, and it’s true they’re making movies with Ang Lee, Robert Zemeckis and Cameron Crowe, climbing their way back in the wake of the hack. But it’s 20th Century Fox that looks to be drawing the elite of the filmmaking community, with strong films coming this year from David O. Russell (“Joy”), Oscar winner Alejandro Innaritu (“Birdman”) whose footage of his in-the-works “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio shot on the frozen tundra was simply inspiring and Ridley Scott, whose new film “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon, looks to be one of his best efforts in years.revenant-02_612x380_0

Disney has never been stronger as a studio. The bold strategy put in place by Bob Iger in buying Marvel and Lucasfilm, in extending John Lasseter’s magic Pixar touch to Disney Animation, is demonstrably paying off. Any studio would be thrilled to have a year that will relaunch the legendary “Star Wars” franchise. But Disney has a superior lineup of movies including not one but two Pixar movies coming this year, along with what looks to be a visually unique action fantasy adventure “Tomorrowland,” starring George Clooney and directed by Brad Bird.

Disney

Disney

Universal has come through a lengthy dry spell and is finally humming as a business and creative engine. It’s been many years of executive leadership changes, shifts in strategic direction and filmmaking choices (from Bourne’s identity to ’47 Ronin’) from Stacey Snider to Marc Shmuger and David Linde to Adam Fogelson. But with an unusual combination of experience and creativity in Jeff Shell, Donna Langley and Ron Meyer, the studio seems to have found its groove. Universal has not only successfully reinvigorated the “Fast and Furious” franchise — hitting its first $1 billion box office take with “Furious 7” — it will reap huge financial rewards from the $568 million haul on “Fifty Shades of Grey” and mint at least two more in that series. The Illumination partnership continues to delight with the upcoming “Minions.” It’s still unclear if the studio has Academy Award ambitions, and what would scratch that itch.

CinemaCon Universal presentation: Vin Diesel (Michael Buckner/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Vin Diesel knows how to tug at the heart strings. The star of “Furious 7” came onstage in the wake of the studio’s victory lap about the movie’s financial success and made the entire room misty. He said he missed his “brother” Paul Walker, and thanked the 3,000 exhibitors in the room: “You made me feel like we could make history with ‘Furious 7.’ This was a very personal movie, the stakes were very personal… We did it as a family, all of us. And I love you for that.”

CinemaCon Universal presentation: Vin Diesel (Michael Buckner/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Warner Bros. is about blockbusters, period. At its presentation, the studio tried to show it had a diverse slate – in other words, something other than superhero flicks. But it wasn’t terribly convincing. The studio excels at making big popcorn movies for broad audiences. What passes for slate diversity at Warner is whether a massive earthquake is going to destroy the earth or a giant radioactive lizard or the current villain chasing Batman (real or Lego version). Sure, the studio will still make any movie Clint Eastwood chooses, as well they should, and not merely because of the success of “American Sniper.” But we could all use a little more of the kind of movie that “Creed” looks to be, with the heart that a director like Ryan Coogler can bring and the scorching charisma of Michael B. Jordan.

Michael B Jordan Sylvester Stallone Creed Inside Photo

See previous: Michael B. Jordan is a movie star.
And Tom Cruise is still a movie star. His description of how he did his stunt on “Mission: Impossible 5” grabbing onto the side of the plane had everyone gasping.

Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" (Paramount)

Paramount

No, it isn’t really Year of the Woman, but we appreciate the sentiment. In his opening remarks to the convention, John Fithian of the National Association of Theater Owners pronounced 2015 the “year of women” at the multiplex. He offered no proof except to say that women have bought 60 percent of the tickets at the box office this year, so far. That’s great, but the statistics that really matter — how many women are in lead roles, how many substantive roles are there for women at all, how many women directors or screenwriters — remain utterly dismal. Lionsgate provides YA vehicles for women heroines from Kristen Stewart to Jennifer Lawrence to Shailene Woodley. But it’s a lonely screenscape out there otherwise. The summer holds some girlish comedies in Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy,” and some girl-buddy funnies in Sofia Vergara-Reese Witherspoon’s “Hot Pursuit,” the ensemble “Pitch Perfect 2,” and the Amy Poehler-Tina Fey comedy “Sisters” (which truth be told did not look so hot). It’s not enough. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Warner Bros. CinemaCon 2015: 'Hot Pursuit' Actresses Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon (Michael Buckner/Getty Images for CinemaCon)Not to dwell on Universal, but this quote from Jeff Shell, the studio chairman, shouldn’t be overlooked: “The movie business is really, really hard.”